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23rd July 2004

Opinion: Classic Generations...

How do you get youngsters interested in classic bikes? Graham Ham responds to FW's editorial in RC02, and considers how to encourage the next lot...

For many of us, our classics are our own fascination, our passion which is shared only with our peers and colleagues 'of a certain age'. Equally, there are those of us that use our interest as a way of introducing a family pursuit and teaching our offspring to appreciate alternative pleasures to those more normally adopted in these days of computers, electronic games and mobile phones. I am firmly in the camp of the latter, seeing huge opportunities to introduce experiences and pleasure to the young 'uns, pleasures which most of their own peers will never get the chance to try or enjoy. My own exploits in this area have been well documented, but I recently had the pleasure to extend the possibilities beyond my own immediate family.

Three years ago, having cut his teeth touring most of the UK and completing a number of European sorties on Daisy's ample pillion, young Chris was delighted one Christmas morning by the unveiling of a BSA Bantam, to call his own. He had already experienced a small degree of riding practice at the controls of Daisy (with me sitting behind him, maintaining a firm grip on the bars!). This was different though. This bike was HIS, and the idea was that he could go to an abandoned road nearby and practice the skilful art of falling off all on his own. He took to it like a duck to water, and could be found hurtling back and forth on that 'safe' strip most weekends. He has now graduated to the real roads, albeit restricted to his mum's scooter, and the Bantam has been relegated to the garage these last few months.

You can almost *feel* the concentration...So it seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity, this Easter, to extend the pleasure-giving potential of that little bike to more youngsters, when a Ham family gathering was arranged during the school holidays. Howard, my brother, is no stranger to motorcycles. He owned and rode a wide variety in his youth and up to the inevitable break for marriage, mortgage, kids and dogs. He came back to the pursuit in recent years via a Harley Sportster and has, like me, introduced the youngsters to the joys of pillion riding. But they ain't experienced the real joy of riding one themselves, and what better introduction, I suggested, than a classic Brit lightweight?

I proposed a trip to the abandoned road, where, I assured Howard, he could introduce the little 'uns to a whole new pleasure and hopefully, passion. Chris also added to the potential by promising that if they enjoyed this first experience, then the Bantam could travel back with them to Wiltshire, where they could learn to ride and fall off at their own pace! So that was it - and we duly arranged to do just that.

On arriving both kids, one girl (Sammy, 13) and one boy (Alex, 11) were hugely excited at the prospect of the following day's adventure and could hardly wait. We dug out the Bantam and, after only mild clownery, managed to get it running again. We were soon unloading it at the old road and Alex stepped up first to receive his instruction regarding the horrible complexities of clutch, throttle and brakes.

On he gets, takes hold of the throttle and of course does what we all did - 'Rrrrrrrrring-A-ddding- A-Screeeeam!!!'

Two adults grab the thing and force it back…

More instruction, more patient explanations, and he's got it. Twist it like sooo, and the revs respond. Too many is bad - steady ... steady ... that's good. Now you pull this lever, and you push that one down with your foot - hear that clunk? - right it's in gear and ready to go. Dad takes station on the pillion and off they wobble. Oooops, no they don't. It's a stall. Two more tries, more patient instruction and now he's got it ! I can hear Dad's instructions as they meander slooowly up the road and then back down again.

He's a natural motorcyclist is Alex, you can tell by the huge grin spread across his face as he approaches us again, at the breath-taking speed of about 15mph. Two more round trips and the whole exercise is repeated for Sammy. Same result grin-wise.

Alex the natural.

In the mean time, Grandad has joined us on the '55 Speed Twin, and now Chris gets to show off his prowess. He can't wait to dislodge his senior and take Winnie roaring up the road and back. The other two keep up their circuits with growing confidence until we all decide that they're ready for a solo.

Alex goes first. Stall. Try again, more throttle, that's it, let that lever out slowly... and he's away!

Er... really away! Sensing a stall, he's opened up and then dumped the clutch. Off he goes, heading for the horizon, and Dad takes off running in hot pursuit. He's got no chance at all as the gap widens and widens until we're all horrified as Alex eventually approaches the end of the road where there's a REAL road! Chris has now caught on and is in hot pursuit on Winnie, drawing level and from where we are we can see his head nodding in heated instruction. To our collective relief, Alex pulls in the clutch and stops. Just like that and without stalling.

Was there ever a problem?

S0 this must be Sammy.

Round he goes, and back down past his puffed-out dad towards the rest of us with the grin now wider than his actual face. Dad eventually gets back, muttering dark promises, but Sammy is eager to go now so there's no respite. She is more cautious than her little brother, and spares Dad the frantic running. Her grin is every bit as wide though.

The afternoon wore on, and all I can say about the enjoyment the family got from their first classic experience is that the Bantam went home with them and now resides in Wiltshire. It is once again serving to introduce the pleasure of our favourite pastime to at least a small part of the next generation.


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